It’s with mixed feelings that Darren Littleton guides a bulldozer through an abandoned farmyard to add to his family’s farmland in Dalton, MO. Yet, to Darren and his dad, Robert “Bob” Littleton, this land also serves as a reminder of the diminishing number of farmers.
Due to the effects of the flood of 1993 and the consolidation of farms, the population of Dalton had declined to just 17 people in the 2010 census. Ironically, that flood 30-plus years ago almost put Darren out of business, too.
“That was the first year I farmed full time,” Darren says. “And between Dad and me, we lost all but 6 acres of crops in the flood. Dad even lost his house due to all the water damage.”
Today, this father-and-son team continually looks for ways to control costs, all the while expanding the operation, which now consists of about 2,500 acres of mostly corn and soybeans. For instance, they’ve purchased parcels in the area that need some work. Equipped with their own hydraulic excavator, tracked dozer, skid-steer loader and land leveler, they’ve cleared land themselves. They also run Massey Ferguson and other farm equipment, because, in part, of its versatility, durability, and fuel efficiency, say the Littletons.
Then, too, in order to conserve costs and preserve the land, they’ve changed the way they farm. For example, instead of disking fields as they once did, they now use a Sunflower® Model 6631 VT for vertical tillage. As a result, they’re able to leave the majority of residue on the soil surface, while still providing minimal tillage and creating channels for moisture penetration.
Also, with only 500 or 600 of the 2,500 acres leased or rented, they prefer to own their land. “Every time you look at cash-renting a field,” says Darren, “there are usually three guys in line ahead of you who are willing to pay more. Our feeling is if you’re going to have to pay $300 or more per acre for rent, you might as well go through Farm Credit and own it in 20 years.”
Australian contractor Wayne Marshall loves his Massey Ferguson tractors for their engines, their economy and the uniformity of their cabs.
Wayne has a fleet of nine Massey Fergusons, including three 15-year-old tractors that he just can’t bear to part with.
Wayne and his wife Judy operate Bundy Ag from their home in Maffra, Victoria, Australia. They offer a range of services including bulk silage, hay cutting and baling, full cultivation and transport.
Silage is the primary focus of the business, which was formed 15 years ago when Wayne left the family business to start out on his own.
His most recent Massey Ferguson purchases include an MF 6614, an MF 7622 and an MF 8680.
“We’ve had Masseys for 15 years and what I like about them is their accessibility of service, their economy, and I’m happy with the AGCOPower engine,” says Wayne.
The Marshalls bought their MF 6614 last September for hay and silage production and for operating their round baler.
“It pulls the baler beautifully and it also does drilling. It’s fitted with a loader and does a variety of loader work and earthworks,” Wayne says.
“It’s the first time I’ve gone back to a four-cylinder engine for a long time. The economy was a big part of that decision and it’s very cheap to run. It’s also very manoeuvrable and has a good turning circle. It’s just a good basic tractor that’s cheap to run.”
Wayne bought the 215hp MF 7622 about 18 months ago and uses it to pull his loader wagon during the silage season. He particularly likes it for the Dyna-VT variable transmission.
“It’s very good and it’s also economical. We use it for a lot of cultivation work, mainly discing and ripping. With both those tractors we are using AdBlue because it’s going to be law soon with our diesel rebates. That was a big consideration,” he says.
“The other thing is the whole range of Massey Ferguson tractors have the same cabin layouts. It’s very easy with staff as they’re familiar with the controls and can go from one tractor to another.”
The third new tractor in the Marshalls’ fleet is the six-cylinder 320hp MF 8680, which was purchased six months ago. It is mainly used for loader wagon silage and earthmoving.
“It also runs on a laser bucket for irrigation layouts and it is very good. I am very happy with it. It has high horsepower and very quick road speed. We are running it with a Topcon GPS guidance system.”
Their full fleet of tractors includes two MF 7495s, which are also used on the loader wagons, an MF 6475, which is used on a round baler and for loader work, two old MF 4270s, which are Wayne’s original tractors and have 12,000 hours on the clock each, and an MF 6255, which is also 15 years old and is used for ripping and discing.
“I can’t get rid of them,” Wayne says about the older machines. “They have sentimental value. I’ve also got a Valtra 202 with a butterfly mower conditioner, which is four years old. It’s running the AGCOPower engine as well and is from the same stable as Massey Ferguson, but I chose that tractor for its long wheel base.”
Wayne is impressed with the advances in technology Massey Ferguson has made in recent years.
“The tractors have come a long way. I’ve seen big changes in the last six or seven years with what we can do with them and the time and fuel savings,” he says.
“They’re a pleasure to drive and the operators can hop out of them at the end of the day and still feel ok.
Wayne and Judy buy their Massey Fergusons through Donalda Motor Service in Maffra. He says a big consideration for sticking with Massey Ferguson is the fantastic support they get from them and from AGCO.
“They’re very good with their backup. They go beyond the call of duty. They’ve been very good to me since I started off in business.
“AGCO is based in Melbourne and we’re very happy with their technical support. If we have any problems they never put a foot wrong. That’s the reason I’ve stuck with them.”
Southland, NZ farmer Mark Dillon’s new Massey Ferguson 9560 combine harvester has sped up his harvesting operation considerably and cut down on the amount of labour he needs.
Mark and his wife Sonia took possession of the MF 9560 in February to use on their Riversdale cropping farm and their contracting business, MJ and SE Dillon.
The Dillons looked at several other brands of harvester before settling on the Massey Ferguson and they have not looked back since.
“We started harvesting on 10th of February and have done close to 600 hectares of barley, wheat and oats with it,” Mark says.
“It’s been really good. We had extra grain this year and we needed extra capacity. We wouldn’t have got the harvest finished without it.”
Mark had previously been harvesting with his MF 865, which was used together with his brother James’ MF 750.
The MF 9560 features a 12,333 litre (9.75 tonne) grain tank, which Mark says can be fully unloaded in less than one-and-a-half minutes. His old MF 865 could only unload 4.5 tonnes in three to four minutes.
“The new 9560 has really sped up the harvesting. One day we did 30 hectares, which was 350 tonnes in an afternoon. We could’ve done that before but we would’ve used both headers and had more staff and tractors and trailers and it would’ve been a big day.”
Mark says the 9560 has done a great job on his wheat, barley and oat crops.
“They have been big wheat crops that we are putting through that have gone flat but it’s handling the straw well,” he says.
“Some of the wheat was 23 percent moisture plus, and it went through the harvester alright. Some people were sceptical about how a rotary would go down in Southland because of the wet but it is handling the conditions no problems. We’ve headed in the rain for 10-15 minutes and it still handled it.”
The MF 9560 is also doing a good job on flat barley crops. Mark says autumn barley crops have been 9-10 tonnes per hectare, which is no trouble for the harvester.
“We’re down to 480 revs with the barley and it’s still threshing the grain out and leaving the crop in reasonable condition for baling,” he says.
“For oats I went through the factory settings and modified it to suit and the sample is good.”
Mark is a particular fan of the MF 9560’s Flex front, which follows the contours of the ground well.
“Some of our country is quite undulating. The harvester follows the ground contours pretty well. That was my concern going from a 16-foot front to 30-foot, but it’s following the rolling ground pretty well,” he says.
“The front lifts up four foot high for moving paddocks so you don’t have to take it off, which also saves time.”
The MF 9560 is built strong. It has minimal moving parts so it is simple to operate, and it is easily adaptable to multiple crops. It features auto lube and V-Cool, which keeps the engine and radiator clean, making it easy to service.
Mark says his new combine is reliable, has plenty of power for big jobs and has good fuel efficiency, with a simple efficient rotor drive.
“It does everything you need from a modern combine but it’s not too complicated. It only has nine belts and three chains on the whole machine and it’s built with plenty of steel,” he says.
The MF 9560 has also been designed with comfort in mind. The quiet, airconditioned cab is well laid out and easy to navigate, with operator foot rests for long days in the cab.
Access to all functions are carried out through a touch screen, with frequent adjustments having an additional dedicated out-of-screen adjustment source. Guidance runs on the same screen.
It’s just one of those talks that you have while you’re milking the cows,” says Todd Schnarr. “You know, ‘What do you want to do next?’” he recalls asking his dad and business partner. “‘Where do you think we’re going?’
“We were just way too overcrowded,” says Todd’s father, Murray. “We had to get these cattle moved into an area where they had a lot more freedom, a lot more space and a lot more cow comfort.”
The Schnarrs, who live and work near Alma, Ontario, found what they hoped would be a solution, consisting of two main parts, each working hand in hand with the other. One was a compost-pack barn that would give the cows the freedom to move about inside, which, in turn, would allow them to essentially milk themselves at the second part of this equation: a robotic milking system.
Pioneered in Europe some 20 years ago, significant numbers of dairies in Canada, and more recently the U.S., have begun installing robotics, also referred to as automatic milking systems (AMS). The robotic system the Schnarrs purchased cost them about $400,000. Even with a total cost of $1.7 million, including construction of the new compost pack barn, Murray and Todd hope the system will pay for itself—mainly in the form of increased yields and lower labor costs—in six to seven years from time of completion.
In addition to operating a dairy, Murray and Todd Schnarr run a custom hay cutting, raking and baling business. Farming a total of 550 acres, some of which is planted in cash crops, Todd says he and his dad don’t farm enough land for many new equipment purchases “to make financial sense. So we do custom work.”
That way, he says, he and his dad can spread the cost over multiple uses and “we can get top-quality equipment for our farm. I like helping neighbors, and this way it’s a win-win for us and for them.”
The “top-quality equipment” to which Todd refers is AGCO, including a Massey Ferguson® 8660 tractor, and a 2150 large square baler and 9770 windrower, both of which are Hesston® by Massey Ferguson. Todd says the fuel economy is excellent on the 9770 and MF8660, and the CVT transmission on the tractor makes “the equipment more efficient to run. You can get that exact mile per hour that you’re looking for. Half a mile an hour might not seem like much, but through a whole day or a week, you know you can get a lot of extra work done with that.”
In 2007, Ron and Diana Mellon erected a handsome cherry-red barn perched on a swath of neatly manicured land. The plan was to use the structure for machinery on their farm, where they run anywhere from 180 to 200 head of Angus-cross cattle, chop silage, rake hay, and raise corn and beans on their rolling 300 acres.
Those plans changed, however, when a couple approached Ron and Diana and asked if they could get married in the beautifully rustic structure. The Mellons’ “Yes” sparked a new venture on the couple’s Lawson, Mo., farm: a booming barn wedding business.
After management and production, land payments, equipment purchases and employing seasonal help, producers and their families often decide to seek out additional revenue streams. Sometimes, it may be agritourism or hunting leases, or even niche markets. The Mellons entrance into the weddings business was a wise one.
Overall, weddings are a whopping $54-billion-a-year industry in the U.S. alone, and $5 billion in Canada. Then, consider that the Bridal Association of America reports 47% of all 2012 weddings were held outside of a church, 35% of which were outdoors. Barns can offer the warm, rustic charm and back-to-basics feel many [wedding] couples crave.
Mellon’s Banquet Hall officially opened for business in 2008. Diana’s already busy days on the farm became even busier. That new barn is now used for weddings, as well as birthday dinners, reunions and corporate retreats.
“We’ve had more than 200 weddings here, not including corporate dinners, birthdays and reunions,” says Diana, who works every event herself. She also hires seasonal employees to help, but laments, “It’s hard to find good help.”
Diana does have terrific help, however, coming from her granddaughters, who pitch in to help, while the Mellons’ grandsons assist Grandpa Ron on the farming side of things.
“The wedding business has become our income,” Ron says, adding that they have a big cattle sale coming up. Farming still remains the bedrock of family life, and, it should be noted, Massey Ferguson equipment helps the Mellons meet their typically tight schedule.
Most Saturdays, Diana can be found checking in with staff, directing photographers and guests, and soothing the jangled nerves of soon-to-be brides.
“Remember, you are working with brides, and trying to keep their stress level down is sometimes impossible,” she says. “When a bride asks, I always smile and never tell them something can’t be done. I just say, ‘Anything is possible; however, there may be a small upcharge.”